What's Going On?

Soft landing?

Activity overview

15 mins
Ages 9 – 11

Science topics:

Forces

Spark a conversation with this video showing scientists testing a parachute for a Mars rover. This activity is great for describing observations and applying ideas in unfamiliar contexts.

Run the activity

1. You’re going to watch a short video. The aim isn't to find right answers, it's to explore ideas and find out what they know.

  • Do they know what might happen based on the image?

2. After you’ve watched the video, lead a discussion with your class:

  • Why will they use a parachute to help the rover land safely on the planet’s surface?
  • Which forces are pulling the rover towards the planet?
  • Which forces will work to slow the rover’s decent?
  • How else could they slow its decent?

3. Ask the class to describe what they saw using only one word.

Background science

Landing any craft on another planet is exceptionally tricky. In fact, getting a craft across the solar system to a planet 54.6 million miles away is a huge undertaking! If the craft gets that far, the vehicle still needs a way of slowing and controlling its descent onto the planet’s surface. The rover in the video is heading to Mars. The main challenge in landing the craft is that Mars has a very thin atmosphere, which makes slowing vehicles down extremely difficult. This is because there is less air resistance. In recent missions, airbags, parachutes, rockets and sky cranes have all been used to prevent space crafts simply plummeting towards the planet’s surface. Each technique is used to create friction, which helps to slow the space craft’s descent.

After a nine-month journey, the 2022 mission of the ExoMars programme will deliver a European rover and a Russian surface platform to the surface of Mars to drill and collect samples of rock. Parachutes, thrusters and damping systems will reduce the speed, allowing a controlled landing on the surface of Mars. The film shows the parachute system being tested in sub-zero conditions in Kiruna, Sweden. The test demonstrated the deployment and inflation of the parachute with 112 lines connected to a drop test vehicle. 

 

The 2022 ExoMars mission is looking for signs of life on Mars. We've got lots of activities to support your own Mars exploration. Read more on our blog! 

Take it further

Investigate Parachutes! Use paper, card or foil cupcake cases and investigate how variables such as size, material or surface area might affect how the cupcake case falls to the ground. Check out STEM Learning's Mars Mission: Landing and Exploring for more activities. 

Research how parachutes are used in other contexts to slow-moving objects or put what you've seen into action with this activity that asks children to build an Egg Parachute.

Image Credit: ESA & Vorticity Ltd via ESA CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Video Credit: Derived from Low Altitude Parachute Drop Test by ESA & Vorticity Ltd CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO / Video edit, music, boards